Sep 23 2020

Microsoft Ignite 2020: How Tech Can Empower Employee Well-Being

Productivity tools aren’t enough. Businesses also need to consider how technology can help their workers stay mentally healthy.

A year’s worth of digital transformation taking place every month.

That’s how much Microsoft’s Jared Spataro says businesses are accelerating their digitization efforts. 

At Microsoft Ignite, Spataro, who is the corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said the changes we’re experiencing will have lasting effects.

“We’re living through a once-in-a-generation shift,” he said. “When, where and how we work is fundamentally changing.” 

“This acceleration, in my mind, marks the end of the post-industrial age,” Spataro added. “We’re entering a new era of the digitization of everything.”

So far, a lot of that digital transformation has been focused on increasing productivity and efficiency. Although that was crucial to maintain operations during the quick transition to remote work at the start of the pandemic, there’s another piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been addressed: employee well-being.

“Productivity can’t just be about short-term,” Spataro said. “Employee output machines don’t create value. People do, and you can’t treat people like machines.”

Attacking that dilemma head-on is a key aspect in remaining successful in the future of work, Spataro said.

WATCH: See how empathy can be the key to building strong customer relationships.

Employees Are Facing More Burnout During Remote Work

This all-digital, all-the-time workflow certainly has its advantages. Microsoft’s research found that 62 percent of workers now feel more empathy toward their colleagues because they can see into their personal lives through video calls, and many feel positive about the flexibility that comes with remote work.

But Spataro says it isn’t all positive. He said the biggest increase in the use of Microsoft Teams has come outside of standard 9-to-5 workday hours, adding that the average workday in the U.S. is now 25 percent longer. 

“One-third of remote workers say the lack of separation between work and life is negatively impacting their well-being,” Spataro said. “And more than 30 percent of information workers and frontline workers say the pandemic has somewhat or significantly increased their sense of burnout.”

The burnout will inevitably hinder performance, despite the technological tools at employees’ disposal.

“Up to this point, technology has been focused on efficiency, and I think that’s a fallacy,” Spataro said. “Sustainable productivity for people isn’t just about efficiency. People need cycles of performance, and they need cycles of recovery.”

It’s a long-term issue that has grabbed the attention of business leaders as well, Spataro said.

“Over the last few months, leaders have gone from worrying about whether or not people will be productive to worrying about whether people are working in sustainable ways,” he said.

Using technology to improve employees’ well-being can pay dividends for an organization down the road.

Tools to Help Employee Well-Being

Mental health and stamina is a part of work that is now appearing in different aspects of business operations, including technology. 

“We need to think about how we empower human ingenuity — the same ingenuity that creates value for the organization that only humans possess,” Spataro said. “We do that by prioritizing individual well-being.”

One way Microsoft is trying to help organizations balance these priorities is with Microsoft Graph. Built into Microsoft 365, the tool collects data on how employees are working, then uses artificial intelligence to suggest next steps and solutions. It delivers personalized assistance right within the flow of work and can provide insight into specific work behaviors. 

“Insight into the factors that impact the day-to-day experience of their teams helps managers create a culture that enables people to do their best work while prioritizing individual well-being,” Spataro said. 

There are also new tools to help workers create the separation in their lives that they used to have by going into an office. 

“A virtual commute will add structure to the remote workday, carving out time to mindfully disconnect in the evening,” Spataro said. “Emotional check-ins help people pause and reflect on how the day went and observe emotional patterns over time.”

A new partnership with the meditation app Headspace builds guided meditation practices right into collaboration tools, giving employees the opportunity to take breaks as needed.

“It’s clear that people want to do great work,” Spataro said. “The big question: How can technology help?”

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of Microsoft Ignite here.

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